Kurdish group accuses Turkey of 'rescuing IS' in Raqqa

Kurdish group accuses Turkey of 'rescuing IS' in Raqqa
The noise of the Battle of Mosul is drowning out the growing threat of Turkish-backed rebels and Kurdish militias going to war in Syria.
4 min read
25 October, 2016
Syrian rebels have gained territory from IS [Anadolu]

A Syrian-Kurdish group has accused Turkey of attacking its fighters in a bid to prevent them capturing the Islamic State group's self-declared capital, Raqqa.

Khaled Issa, a spokesperson for the anti-IS Syrian Democratic Forces, says that the Turkish military is using the Iraqi offensive on Mosul to intensify its clandestine attacks on Kurdish groups in Syria.

"With its artillery and aircraft, the Turkish army is taking advantage of the media and international community's focus on Mosul to massively attack Syrian Kurds to stop them taking Raqqa," Issa told reporters in Paris.

All eyes on Mosul

Issa made the announcement while world powers met in the French capital to discuss the highly-publicised Battle of Mosul, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are attempting to capture IS' stronghold in Iraq.

As anti-IS forces inch closer to capturing the city, analysts fear that jihadi fighters might flee over the border to Raqqa.

The US-backed Kurdish-Arab force - known as the Syrian Democratic Forces - have been slowly working their way towards IS self-declared capital.

They have captured towns in Raqqa province along the way - including exclusively Arab ones - and effectively incorporated them into the Kurdish-Syrian territory of Rojava.

Meanwhile, Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces have captured other key towns in northern Syria from IS, including the militants' ideological hub Dabiq.

So far, Turkey claims the rebels have won 1,000 square kilometres from IS, and are moving south towards al-Bab, an important strategic point for IS, and one of the gateways to Raqqa.

Collision course

However, the rebel advance has also put them on a collision course with Kurdish groups in the area.

As the rebels and Kurds both compete for land from a depleted IS enemy, there is an increased risk of more serious clashes.

Turkish-backed fighters have turned their attention on capturing the Kurdish-controlled towns of Manbij and Tel Rifaat, as well as IS territories.

We cannot go and fight in Raqqa when the Turkish army is bombing us.
- Khaled Issa, Syrian Democratic Forces

Turkey's Prime Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned that if the YPG don't leave Manbij "we know how to remove them with our own resources".

Turkish armour and artillery are already in Syria in significant numbers and are making a significant contribution to the fight against IS.

But they have also been used against Kurdish militias, and they fear that they could be turned on their fighters again.

Khaled Issa also believes that Turkey's main priority is securing its border from Kurdish rebels, even if it means helping IS.

"If Turkish artillery and aircraft are heavily bombing SDF positions in this zone... it is partly to stop them (SDF) cutting [IS] supply lines to Raqqa and partly to allow Turkey to keep control of 70 kilometres (40 miles) of its border with Syria," Issa said.

"We cannot go and fight in Raqqa when the Turkish army is bombing us."

War brewing?

[click to enlarge]

Turkish war planes have hit several Kurdish and IS positions in Syria over the past two days. 

Prime Minister Cavusoglu has also threatened to intervene in northern Iraq, and pushed for a Turkish role in the Mosul offensive, to protect the Sunni population from marauding Shia militias

Meanwhile, Kurdish groups and the Syrian regime have frequently accused Turkey - and Gulf states - of supporting IS.

Issa went on to accuse Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of "rushing to Daesh's [IS] rescue".

He used the Paris meeting as a chance to call on the UN Security Council "to put an end to Erdogan's irresponsible actions which hamper the fight against Daesh [IS]".

Ankara has angered the US by opposing the largely Kurdish force fighting IS in eastern Syria.

On the weekend, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter called for a simultaneous attack on Raqqa, while IS militants are bogged down in Mosul. 

"We want to see an isolation operation begin around Raqqa as soon as possible," said Carter.

"We are working with our partners there [in Syria] to do just that … There will be some simultaneity to these two operations."

But Turkey's invaluable role in the rebels' Operation Euphrates Shield has also put Turkey in a position where they could halt the spread of the autonomous Kurdish state in Syria, even if it means preventing a decisive assault on the IS "capital".